When the going gets tough, the tough get going. <BR> Vince Wilfork is living proof.

"Unfortunately, my parents passed in 2002 -- my dad (died of kidney failure at 48) June 5, a day before my mother's birthday and my mother (Barb) died (of a stroke at 46) on Dec. 16, 2002," the University of Miami, Fla., defensive tackle said at the recent NFL combine. "It wasn't my year,"

"And plus I had to fight through the injuries, where I had a calf strain and then I had a broken hand. That whole year was kind of off-track for me. Luckily for me, my teammates and my coaching staff, they pulled through for me and helped me through the trials and tribulations and got me to this point I'm at right now.

"It was difficult, but there's certain things that happen for a reason. I really believe that."

If anything, Wilfork is a guy you root for. He's also a guy the Bears love and even had in for a private workout at Halas Hall on April 6.

Wilfork is projected to be on the board when the Bears pick 14th overall in Saturday's NFL draft. If he is, there's a good chance new coach Lovie Smith will get the defensive lineman he covets and a player who fits a definite team need.

"Our defense that we run is kind of based on being able to pressure the quarterback with four guys," Smith said. "This past year, we weren't able to do that, so that's an area that, of course, we have to improve."

A top receiver, such as Texas' Roy Williams or Washington's Reggie Williams, is also an attractive pick at this spot, but Wilfork is a big, strong and quick tackle who could anchor the middle of the Bears' defense for years to come. Plus, Smith is a defensive-minded coach and may favor that side of the ball with the team's top pick.

Wilfork left school a year early so he could support his family. The only question experts seem to have about him is his weight. Wilfork was listed at 6-foot-1, 344 pounds during the college season, but showed up at February's NFL combine in Indianapolis at 323 pounds and was said to be at that weight during his school workout in early March. Smith has made it no secret he doesn't want "fat guys" on the roster, but Wilfork seems to have his priorities in order. He was recently married, has a daughter and appears ready for the NFL.

Even for his size, it would be hard for Smith and the Bears' brass to pass on Wilfork if he's still available. Miami is known for its standout defensive linemen. Warren Sapp, Cortez Kennedy, Russell Maryland and Jerome Brown all enjoyed successful pro careers.

"When (Miami) started recruiting me my junior year, those (names) were what I thought about," Wilfork said. "I saw Vince Wilfork being the next great defensive tackle, and that's how I took it. My mind frame was to go in and kick butt, and that's what I did throughout my career."

Wilfork even threw the shot put for Miami's track team his freshman year. He set the school's indoor record three times during the 2001 track season and claims to have once thrown the shot put 68 feet in high school. Wilfork finished second in the state in both the shot put and discus in Class 6A in Florida, but gave up the sport after his freshman season at Miami to concentrate on football.

Wilfork is never without a necklace his parents gave him. If he's not wearing it around his neck, he says it's in his pocket. He has tattoos on his arm that say "rest in peace mom," and "rest in peace dad." "Everywhere I go, they follow me, and everywhere I go, they're with me," Wilfork said.

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